The Thirteenth Sacrifice
A Witch Hunt Novel
Everywhere she looked there were shadows. Somewhere far away a man was chanting in a deep voice, and with each word a new cut appeared on her arms, until she was bleeding from a dozen wounds. The blood rolled down her arms and dripped off the tips of her fingers to land in pools on the floor. She began to shake.
“Turn!” It was one of the grown-ups, the one with the pale blue eyes.
She spun slowly, the blood continuing to drip onto the floor, forming a circle around her.
She stopped when she had gone all the way around. She began to feel faint and the smell of her own blood made her sick.
“It must be unbroken.”
She looked down at the floor, at the blood spatters that formed the circle. Except it wasn’t perfect; there were three spots where the line was broken.
The man stopped chanting and a moment later several women started a different chant.
She stared down in terror at the breaks in the circle. The circle kept her safe. The circle protected her from what was outside,but only if it was unbroken.A sulfurous smell filled her nostrils and she could hear screams nearby.
She began to spin in a circle again, trying to drip blood on the gaps, but no matter how hard she tried, the blood went everywhere but where she wanted it to go.
She started to get dizzy and she thought she was going to fall down, but she had to stay inside the circle and she had to finish it. The screams grew closer and she didn’t know what made them.
“You will die!”
She began to scream herself, trying to block out the other screams. She dug her fingernails into her arms, tearing at her skin until the blood flowed faster and fell all around her. Two gaps left.
She heard the sound of claws scratching the ground, running toward her.
One gap left.
Growling and snarling, they were upon her, on every side. She shook her hands, watching her own blood fly through the air, covering her, the ground, the things beyond the circle with red eyes, and then the last gap was closed.
And something hit the circle and sent shock waves through the air and the screaming got louder.
Samantha Ryan shrieked and sat up in bed. Sweat covered her and she could still smell the blood from her dreams. She switched on the lamp on her end table and saw that she had scratched several deep grooves into her arms, and her sheets were bloody.
She wrapped her bleeding arms around herself and began to rock back and forth. “Just a nightmare, just a nightmare,” she told herself over and over again.
Only she knew it wasn’t a nightmare. They never were. It was another repressed memory from her childhood, bubbling to the surface to haunt her and shatter the peace she had tried so hard to achieve and hold on to.
Finally she got up and made her way to the bathroom and did her best to stanch the flow of blood. The scratches were across the insides of her lower arms. Cat scratches— that’s what she’d tell anyone who asked. Scratches from a phantom cat who didn’t exist, who got blamed for a lot she didn’t want to have to explain.
Once she got the bleeding stopped, she applied Neosporin to the cuts. As her fingers stroked the scratches, she fought the urge to mutter a healing incantation over them. The pain was great but not unbearable. Far better to feel the pain.
She reached up to touch the cross she wore around her neck. It wasn’t good to wear it to bed. She risked injuring herself while she was unconscious. Still, she couldn’t bring herself to remove it. Her arms began to throb and she said a silent prayer as she swallowed some Tylenol.
She straightened and looked at herself in the mirror. Green eyes that looked far too old to belong to her stared back. Her shoulder-length red hair was damp with sweat and she ducked her head under the faucet, letting the cold water wash away the last clinging tendrils of the nightmare memory.
A few minutes later she toweled her hair dry and walked back into her bedroom, where she looked at the clock. It was almost four in the morning. She knew from experience that she wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep, and that even if she could, she wouldn’t like what she saw. She stripped her bed, dumped the sheets in the washing machine, and then got ready for work.
Black pants went on first. A gray button-up shirt suited her mood. A small Swiss Army knife she’d carried with her since her first day on the job and her detective’s shield went into a pocket. She hesitated only a moment before clipping her holster onto her belt and sliding her gun inside it.
After leaving her house, Samantha drove downtown, parked, and headed to her favorite coffee shop. The city was just beginning to wake up and she savored the sights and sounds. Every city had its own character and Boston was no exception. The city that had witnessed so many historic events had not forgotten its past even as it pushed boldly forward into the future. It felt old and young all at once.
Just like me.
A jogger passed her, throwing an admiring glance her way. She ignored him. Samantha was twenty-eight but often felt much, much older. With her red hair and green eyes betraying her Irish heritage, a gift from the father she had never known, she caught the eyes of a lot of guys her age. It was admiration she found hard to reciprocate because they all seemed so very young and so very, very naive.
She walked into Jake’s Eats and settled into her usual booth. Claudia,the motherly brunette waitress who never forgot a customer, appeared with a glass of orange juice in her hand.
“Rough night, huh?”
Samantha smiled at her. “You could say that.”
“You’re in luck. We’ve got corned beef hash this morning.”
“Sounds like a winner.”
Claudia smiled, patted her on the shoulder, and headed back toward the kitchen. Samantha wrapped her hand around the glass of orange juice, feeling the cold of it against her fingers, inhaling the smells coming from the kitchen, feeling the squishiness of the red vinyl upholstery, and remembering, as always, her first visit to the restaurant.
She had been twelve and a police officer had brought her. It had seemed like a haven from the horrors of her childhood, and the bloodbath she had just witnessed. It was where she came whenever she needed to remember that the past was the past. When I need to feel safe, she thought, briefly closing her eyes.
She heard the chimes on the door and opened her eyes to see a man a few years older than she was, with short black hair, a square jaw, and a brown trench coat, and he was heading her way with a determined stride.
“Morning, Ed,” she said in greeting as he slid across from her into the booth.
“Samantha. I knew I’d find you here.”
“Did you call the house?”
“Yeah, and, surprise, you weren’t there.”
“You could have called my cell,” she said.
He rolled his eyes at her. “I could have, if you ever had it on.”
She resisted the urge to check, but knew he was probably right. Her cell phone spent more time off than it did on. She told people she was forgetful, but deep down she knew that she really just didn’t want to talk to anyone.
“I think you must be the worst partner I’ve ever had,” he grouched.
She smiled. “I’m the best partner you’ve ever had and you know it.”
He gave her a defiant look and then grabbed her orange juice. “Whatever,” he said as he took a swig. She had long before learned not to let his occasional lack of boundaries faze her. He knew she kept secrets from him, but he didn’t push. In exchange, she didn’t gripe when he mooched her food. It was a tenuous truce at best, but for two years it had worked well for both of them.
Ed was her second partner. Making detective so young hadn’t made her popular, and everyone knew that her family was close to the captain. Her first partner had spent more time griping about her age than helping her learn the ropes. It hadn’t mattered to him that she had a degree in criminal science, had worked her tail off, stepping up and taking responsibility wherever she could, and earned high praise from her supervisors. The whole partnership had been a disaster. After three months Captain Roberts had assigned Ed to be her partner. Fortunately Ed had been willing to overlook her inexperience, and she had learned a lot from him. But she prided herself on also having taught him a thing or two.
“Why are you here, Ed?” she asked as she retrieved her orange juice.
“Why else? We’ve got a body—college coed turned up dead in her apartment off campus.”
“We’re not on duty for another couple of hours.”
“Yeah, but there’s some local color involved.”
Claudia reappeared with the promised corned beef hash. Samantha shoveled several forkfuls into her mouth as Ed grabbed a piece of her sourdough toast and headed for the door. She put money down on the table and followed him outside to his car. They drove for ten minutes in silence before parking outside an apartment complex.
“Local color” was what the other detectives called it when there was anything weird about a call. As soon as they walked inside the apartment, Samantha saw why the phrase had been applied.
A girl was standing, talking to a uniformed officer. Her hair was dyed an unnatural black, and she was dressed like a Goth, in a black velvet dress, black boots, and fishnet tights. Nearby, the crime scene photographer was taking pictures of the body of a young woman dressed in white who had a bloody pentagram drawn on her forehead.
When Samantha and Ed approached, the uniformed officer explained that the live girl was Katie Horn, that she lived there and had discovered the body. The dead girl was Camille. He then moved away.
Samantha turned to Katie and studied her, taking in everything from the pentagram necklace to the crystal ring on her finger. Wiccan?
“What’s with the getup?” Ed asked.
“I’m a witch,” the girl said defiantly.
Samantha suppressed the urge to roll her eyes. “When is your coven meeting?”
“I don’t have one. I’m a solitary practitioner.”
“What you are is full of crap,” Ed said. “You see, my partner here, she has witch-dar. If you were a witch, I would have known it ten minutes ago.”
Samantha sighed and contemplated kicking him, but he continued. “Friend of yours?” he asked, indicating the body.
“You don’t seem too shook up,” he noted.
The girl shrugged. “Didn’t know her until three weeks ago. I put an ad in the campus paper, and she was the only one who answered who wasn’t a freak.”
“Good one,” Ed said, as if she had just made a joke.
“Was she observant?” Samantha questioned.
“Huh?” Katie asked, a confused look on her face.
“Did she practice? Was she Wiccan? Pagan?” Samantha clarified.
“No, nothing like that. She was like Mormon or something.”
“And she didn’t have a problem with you being a . . . witch?” Ed asked, choking on the word.
“No, some people have, like, religious tolerance, you know,” Katie said, glaring at Ed.
“Right.” He snorted.
“Did she have a boyfriend?” Samantha interrupted.
“Yeah, Brad, a real frat brat,” Katie said, wrinkling her nose. “They just started going out.”
“Did she have any enemies?” Ed asked.
Katie shook her head. “She wasn’t interesting enough to have enemies.”
Samantha’s eyes swept the room. They weren’t going to get anything useful out of Katie. The way she stood, all defiant and rebellious posturing, was mostly a front, but if she knew something more, she had no plans to spill it.
Ed continued to question Katie while Samantha inspected the environment for anything of interest. Aside from the bloody pentagram on Camille’s forehead, there didn’t seem to be any blood on the body or anywhere else in the room.
She walked into Katie’s room, which had vampire themed posters on the walls. Stacks of vampire and witch books cluttered her desk and nightstand. A handful of mythology and comparative lit textbooks teetered precariously on the edge of her desk.
A pentagram had been marked on the floor underneath and around her bed. Samantha raised an eyebrow and wondered if the guys Katie brought home found it as dark and sexy as Katie clearly did.
From there she moved to Camille’s room. By contrast, this room was all delicate pastels. A stuffed bear sat lonely in the middle of the neatly made bed. Posters of horses and kittens decorated the walls. If Camille really was Mormon, then Samantha was surprised that she would have tolerated a roommate like Katie. Her parents would no doubt have been even less thrilled.
“Why were you here, Camille?” she whispered to the room. She closed her eyes and could almost feel the younger woman’s spirit, her essence.
She opened her eyes and shook herself hard. She moved over to Camille’s desk and went through the drawers, finding only school supplies. The textbooks on the desk were neatly stacked and revealed that Camille had been taking biology, chemistry, and French literature.
After gathering all the names and information they could, an hour later they left the scene. Once in Ed’s car, Samantha’s irritation with him returned. “I don’t like it when you do that.”
“Get sarcastic with the suspects? You know I can’t help myself.”
“What, say you have witch-dar?”
“But you do.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Okay, was she a witch?”
“Was she a Wiccan?”
“I seriously doubt it.”
“I don’t know. I think she might have been—after all, there were all those candles around,” he said.
She couldn’t tell whether he was serious or he was baiting her. “You saw that apartment. There was no place she could cast a proper circle, not easily.”
“Maybe she worships outside.”
“In the dirt and the mud? Hardly.”
“What makes you say that?” he asked.
“Let’s just say her boots weren’t made for walking.”
“Okay, but the candles . . .”
“All black. She’s a Goth. You know, darkness, death, tragedy. Wiccans celebrate the whole cycle—birth, life, death. Not just one aspect. Besides, you can’t do candle magic with all black candles.”
“Witch-dar,” he said smugly.
Samantha turned to stare out the window, annoyed that she’d walked into it. She fingered her cross and tried not to think about how her need to touch it to make herself feel better was not much different from ceremonial magic.
“Sorry,” he said, growing serious. “What do you think about the dead girl and the pentagram on her forehead?”
Samantha shrugged. “I think it’s a red herring. Wiccans take an oath to do no harm. Human sacrifice isn’t their thing.”
And the types of people who do believe in human sacrifice don’t use that symbol.
“Still, it’s freaky.”
“Do we know what the cause of death was?” Samantha asked. She hadn’t been able to see any trauma to the body—no gun or knife wounds, no strangulation marks either.
“Coroner’s gotta run some tests. It could be poison or something like that.”
“Or she could have had a medical condition. Neither of which points to the supernatural.”
“No witches, then? So, all that and it’s just going to be a standard investigation,” he said, sounding disappointed. “Remember last month it was that fake vampire murder and six months before was that woman who swore the ghost of her dead husband was the one who killed her boyfriend instead of her?”
“Your point?” she asked.
“Mark my words—one of these days there’s going to be something supernatural actually going on.”
“You really believe that, Ed?” she asked, carefully keeping her tone neutral.
“Where there’s smoke there’s usually fire. Plus, Vanessa saw a ghost when she was a kid and I believe her.”
“It’s always a good policy, believing your wife.”
“And you don’t believe her?” Ed asked.
“Of course I do. She’s one of the most grounded, practical people I know. If she says it happened, I take it as gospel.”
“So, off to chase down an ordinary killer. Let’s go see the boyfriend.”
“Frat Brat Brad,” Samantha said. “What more did you get on him besides a nickname?”
“Brad Jensen. His name was in Camille’s cell. According to Goth girl, he belongs to an honors fraternity. Apparently that’s how he and Camille met.”
Ed pulled up outside the fraternity house. They walked up to the front door, knocked, and the door was opened by a tired-looking guy with three-day-old stubble and coffee breath.
“We’re looking for Brad Jensen,” Ed said.
“Come in. He’s in the kitchen,” the other guy said before yawning.
They walked into the kitchen just as someone picked up a backpack and began to head out.
“Brad?” Samantha asked.
“May I help you?” he asked, open curiosity on his face. “If this is about pledging, maybe Harry can help. I’m just on my way to class. Sorry.”
Samantha looked him over. He was tall and slender with a gentle smile and innocent eyes partially obscured by glasses. He was wearing slacks, a long-sleeved shirt, and a tie and seemed comfortable in them. He didn’t look like someone who was into drawing bloody pentagrams on girls after he killed them. Samantha flashed Ed a sideways glance and could tell he was thinking the same thing.
Brad left the kitchen and they followed him into the common room.
“Brad Jensen?” she specified.
“Yes. Why?” he said, turning to look at her. There it was in his eyes, the sudden dawning that something might be wrong. She had seen that look dozens of times. Most people could sense when they were about to get bad news.
“We’re Detectives Ryan and Hofferman,” she said, flashing her badge. “We need to talk to you about Camille.”
“Is she okay?” he asked, going completely white.
“I’m afraid not,” Ed said, his voice softening. “She’s dead.”
“Dead?” Brad asked as he sank down into a green velvet armchair that had seen better days.
Ed nodded. “We understand the two of you were dating.”
Brad’s eyes had glazed over and he didn’t respond. Samantha knelt in front of him and put her hand on his shoulder. “Brad?”
“What? Sorry. Yeah. We had just met, but she was special, you know. We had so much in common.” His voice caught in his throat and he looked away.
He doesn’t want to cry in front of us.
“I told her to be careful when driving around here, that people were crazy. She wasn’t used to all the traffic, and it scared her.”
“She didn’t die in a car accident,” Samantha began.
“She was murdered,” Ed finished.
And she watched Brad’s eyes as the news shattered him. Grief, pain, and disbelief flashed across his face in quick succession. Rage would come soon enough. It was a critical moment, the one when you realized the world wasn’t safe and that those you loved could be ripped from you by evil. It would likely be a defining point of his life. She wondered, as she always did, what it was like to be innocent and then to lose it. Her own innocence had been destroyed when she was too young to even remember it.
“Was she religious?” Samantha asked.
Brad nodded. “Very. She’s Mormon. I am too. That was one of the things that was so great. You don’t meet as many Mormons out here as you do back home.”
“Was she interested in Wicca or anything like that?”
“You mean witchcraft?” Brad asked, looking somewhat shocked.
Samantha sighed. Wicca and witchcraft were two different things, especially in the way he obviously thought.
“Yeah,” Ed said, pressing on.
Brad shook his head. “No. I mean, I know her roommate was into some weird stuff, but not Camille. She was only staying there until she could find a better place to live. The fraternity is coed. She applied for a spot in the girls’ building. I was really praying she’d get it so she could get out of there.”
“When was the last time you heard from her?” Samantha asked.
“Three nights ago. We went out to dinner. We were supposed to go to the movies tonight . . .”
The tears he had been trying to stop started to flow.
“Did anyone ever threaten her in any way?” Samantha asked.
“Who would do that? It was Camille. She was so . . . nice.”
The guy who had answered the door and two others had gathered at the far side of the room. Samantha stood and nodded, and one of them moved over and sat down next to Brad, putting a hand on his shoulder.
“If there’s anything we can do to help you find her killer, let us know,” he said, looking Samantha straight in the eye.
Brad had begun sobbing uncontrollably. Samantha and Ed took the names and phone numbers of the others in the room and then left.
“That got us nowhere,” Ed complained when they were finally back in the car.
Samantha wished she could disagree, but Brad didn’t know anything. She was sure of it.
“Someone wanted her dead. There had to be a reason, right?” Ed continued.
“Well, we’ll just have to keep looking until we find it.”
Samantha’s phone rang.
“Look at that—it does have an On button.”
Samantha grimaced as she went to answer it.
“Let’s hope that’s the coroner with some good news for us,” Ed said.
“And that would be what? ‘Oops, our bad—she’s still alive’?” Samantha snapped.
Ed looked at her, clearly startled, and she turned away to answer the phone. She could tell by the caller ID that it was George at the coroner’s office.
“Do you know the cause of death?” she asked with no greeting.
“Hello to you too,” an older male voice said. “No. There’s no easily discernible cause. I’ll be running a tox screen.”
“If you don’t have anything, why are you calling?”
“Wanted to let you know that the pentagram was drawn in nail polish.”
“Nope. Looks like it was applied several hours after she was dead.”
“Thanks, George,” she said and hung up.
“What is it?” Ed asked.
“Pentagram was drawn in nail polish, not blood.”
“I think we need to go back to the apartment and do some color checks to see if it might have belonged to her or Katie,” Ed said, steering into the right-hand lane and preparing to turn.
It felt morbid, going through a dead girl’s bathroom, looking for her makeup. Three flavored lip glosses, a pale pink blush, and a bottle of clear nail polish turned up in the third drawer Samantha checked. That was it. No eye shadow, no mascara, no liners, not even any powder. The nail polish bottle was nearly full. The blush looked like it had been used only a couple of times.
Samantha searched the other drawers, but she knew she wouldn’t find anything else. It fit with the picture of Camille that she had been forming.
Camille’s bathroom was the one shared with guests. Katie had the master bedroom with her own bathroom, which Ed was searching. Samantha exited Camille’s bathroom and headed for Katie’s room.
Katie was sitting on the couch in the living room, arms folded across her chest, clearly upset that as soon as forensics finished their job she was going to be locked out of her apartment for the next couple of days to preserve the scene.
A couple of days on a friend’s couch won’t hurt her, but a couple of days in prison might, Samantha thought.
Samantha walked into Katie’s bathroom just as Ed was whistling and bending over the trash can.
“Look what we have here,” he said.
“Red nail polish.” Samantha confirmed it as he used tongs to pull the bottle out of the trash can and deposit it in an evidence bag. They returned to the living room and Ed held the bag high.
“Care to explain?” he asked.
“Duh. It’s nail polish,” Katie said.
“Why did you throw it away?”
“What? I didn’t throw it away.”
“Then why was it in your trash?” Samantha asked.
“It . . . I don’t know,” Katie said.
“Did you put it in there, or drop it accidentally, after painting the pentagram on Camille’s forehead?” Ed asked.
“What? That was blood, and I didn’t do it!”
“It was nail polish, not blood, and you need to start talking to us before this gets any worse for you,” Samantha said.
“Worse for me?” Katie squeaked, her eyes widening in fear. “But—but I didn’t do anything.”
“So who are you covering up for?” Ed demanded.
“I . . . uh—no one. No one!”
“Who are you protecting?”
“I’m not protecting anyone!” Katie said, beginning to sob.
But she was. The question was, who would someone like Katie protect? She seemed more the kind to be loyal to herself first. What would someone have to do to gain her loyalty? What would someone have to be?
Samantha stared hard at Katie. The girl was scared and she was hiding something. “Tell us about your boyfriend,” Samantha said suddenly.
“Kyle?” Katie asked, blinking at her in confusion. “Why do you want to know about Kyle?”
“Is he the kind of guy that likes pentagrams a little too much?” Ed asked, gesturing first to Katie’s necklace and then mimicking drawing a pentagram on his forehead.
“What? No. He’s, like, a normal guy. Anyways, he’s not even my boyfriend. We broke up like six months ago.”
And yet on some level she still thinks of him as her boyfriend, Samantha thought.
“I mean, he and Camille never even met.”
“Are you sure about that?” Ed asked.
“Do you have any enemies?” Samantha asked.
Katie went pale. “I hope not,” she whispered. There was fear in her eyes, a fear that was much deeper, much more primal than her fear of the detectives.
Ed’s cell phone rang. After a few seconds he moved several feet away. Samantha turned her attention back to Katie. She wanted to know what the girl was hiding from her, what she was afraid of.
You could make her tell you. It would be easy, a voice whispered in her head.
She set her jaw and tried to ignore the promptings, the urges. A spell of revelation perhaps . . . Samantha shook her head fiercely. She didn’t do that anymore, not for years. She took a deep breath, struggling to control herself. It had to be because of the nightmare. Every time she had a nightmare she had to remind herself that she wasn’t that person anymore. No spells. But convincing Katie to trust her would be so very easy.
Samantha squatted down slowly, bringing herself to eye level with the girl. She tilted her head slightly and waited for Katie to meet her eyes.
“Look at me, Katie,” she said, dropping her voice into its lowest range. “You’re going to trust me. You’re going to tell me—”
A hand descended on her shoulder and Samantha gasped and nearly fell backward onto her rump. She caught herself with a hand on the floor and took several quick breaths. Guilt rose up in her at what she had been about to do.
She glanced up and saw Ed looking at her with raised eyebrows.
“What?” she snapped, more forcefully than she meant to.
“We need to go. Now.”
She stood up.
“Don’t leave town,” Ed said to Katie. She nodded, eyes wide, still looking at Samantha.
“Joe,” Ed said, turning to one of the officers still on the scene, “make sure you drive her to her friend’s house, see that she gets settled, and get all the contact info for her and her friend.”
Joe nodded his understanding. Ed turned and headed out of the apartment, Samantha trailing behind him. As soon as they were in his car he turned to her. “What was that? Trying to hypnotize her? Watching too much television again?”
“Yes, that was it exactly,” she said, letting sarcasm drip from her voice. “I was just trying to calm her down and get a better look at her eyes when I asked her questions.”
“Did it work?”
“I didn’t have long enough,” she said. Thank God, she added silently. “Where are we going?”
“Across town. St. Vincent’s Cathedral.”
“Can’t they put someone else on it?”
“No, we’re the go-to guys for this one.”
“Let me guess,” she said with a sigh. “Local color?”
“Worse. There’s a dead nun with a pentagram on her forehead.”
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